Unhappy Journalists Aren’t Productive Journalists

I hope to periodically use this blog to summarize recent academic research relevant to managing change in the newsroom. Today I picked up one of the Newspaper Research Journals that have been piling up on my desk, untouched, and spent a few minutes quickly reading through a study that found that one-third of copy editors are dissatisfied with their jobs. Not exactly groundbreaking, but since it’s relevant to managing change I thought I would take a look.

Obviously, these findings are not good, given the relationship between job performance, productivity, and job satisfaction organizational scholars have long established, but nevertheless are not at all surprising to anyone that’s been in a newsroom lately.

Published in the summer 2007, the findings came from an online survey of ACES members conducted by Andrew Zahler, a copy editor for The Spokesman-Review in Washington state who has an MA from Mizzou.

Why were they so dissatisfied? Well, the main reason was increased workload, often due to more responsibilities as newspapers produce larger amounts of copy for the Web as well as print, combined with shrinking staffs. Many of them said the quality of their work had suffered — both a cause and an effect of job dissatisfaction.

What was most interesting to me were some of the suggestions made by the copy desk to improve their situation, which seem relevant to the many newsrooms who are contemplating a continuous news desk. These included staggering copy editors’ schedules, and “orchestrating a prioritized plan for moving content through the editing process based on its relative importance” (pg. 32). These are the kinds of things some newspaper managers fear will be resisted but think will be necessary, so it’s somewhat telling they are raised here.

They also noted that teamwork is important and that reporters have to do their part in terms of turning in clean copy on time. This is a theme that I have found reflected in my own research as well: There is a widespread feeling in some production departments that these folks are being asked to bear a disproportionate share of the burden of these lean times in terms of shrinking staff sizes and increased responsibility. I’m not at the stage yet where I can say for sure if this is really the case or not, but issues of fairness and justice in the workplace are absolutely vital when it comes to creating a productive and effective work environment, according to my professor Michael Diamond, an expert in organizational change.

Of course, there are limitations. The response rate for this study wasn’t bad for such things — about 41 percent — but clearly those who responded may likely be generally more engaged in their profession than others.

1 Comment

Filed under Research on Newsroom Change, Uncategorized

One response to “Unhappy Journalists Aren’t Productive Journalists

  1. Dave

    Hi, just found your blog this evening. I haven’t read this study yet, but I’m really intrigued by the ideas of fairness and justice in the newsroom.

    I wonder how many reporters feel they’re getting workloads as disproportional as the those of copy editors? Not only that, but that no one else realizes how difficult it can be to keep up. One look at angryjournalist.com suggests there are more than a few reporters thinking this way.

    My point is that not only should we maybe think about fairness and justice, but maybe we also need to focus on making everyone aware of others’ claims to them. Everyone might be treated unfairly, but simply announcing that to the newsroom and demanding remedy seems like it would just lead to division. Reporters need to be able to empathize and sympathize with copy editors and news editors, copy editors with news editors and reporters.

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